Becoming a Pentecost people

A pair of hands hoving over the keyboard of a laptop
 on May 30, 2024

It may have passed us recently in terms of the church calendar, but it’s still worth recalling and dwelling on the incredible power and potential of Pentecost, one of the landmark events in our faith. Sometimes we’ve heard the words of Scripture, especially its more well-known passages, so often that the accounts and their implications can almost slide over us without us fully comprehending their impact.

Pentecost, of course, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples with a rush of wind and tongues of fire while they were in Jerusalem. They had been in hiding, fearful after losing their leader, Jesus. Now all of them are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages (Acts 2:1-4). But it’s more profound than that. The apostles overcome their fear, pour out into the streets and speak their truth so powerfully that 3,000 people are converted on a single day!

The Spirit that fell at Pentecost is a dynamic demonstration of God’s power to overcome the barriers of language, ethnicity, gender, class and orientation. The Spirit empowers this fledging, faith-filled community to speak with one voice. It enables people dismissed for drunkenness to form the first fruits of the Church.

This really was the moment the Church began — and what a beginning! The power of the Holy Spirit made its impact known quickly. A new way of life was launched, one that lived out the power of the Resurrection. Thousands of people heard its call and joined the Jesus movement. Sick people were healed. The disciples shared what they had amongst the full community, responding to people in need so that “there was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34). It was clear that salvation was understood as a communal activity, and that those with excess wealth should share it.

However, often forgotten in the intense focus on tongues of fire and speaking in tongues at Pentecost is the persecution that this early band of Jesus followers soon experienced as they began to shake up the existing order, both religious and social. Accounts of the early Church in the Book of Acts and elsewhere in Scripture (2 Corinthians 6:4-10) underscore this. The disciples faced persecution, including imprisonment and beatings, even as their community was growing and becoming more diverse. That persecution underscores how the gospel represented a truly countercultural way of life. Indeed, throughout Acts people who were followers of Jesus aren’t called Christians but are called followers of The Way or people of The Way. They are not simply committed to a cultural practice or obligation but live in complete devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And God calls on them to boldly proclaim this new creation: “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this new life” (Acts 5:20).

Pentecost has much to teach us today. It reminds us that the Holy Spirit is available to us, especially if we pray for boldness as the early believers did (Acts 4:29). We can choose to live out our own “little Pentecosts,” small awakenings of our own spirit, throughout our lives. Our lives, communal and individual, ought to reflect our own experiences of God’s grace and action in and among us. We too can become fearless storytellers about the Good News.

A Christian friend said to me that one likely reason for the Church’s decline in recent years is that many people don’t see the Church as being greatly different from mainstream society. They don’t feel inspired to join it. Pentecost’s message of radical repentance and of positive energy can empower us to live in a new way, one very different from the ethos of a society that encourages us to think of ourselves and what we want first and foremost.

What message do we send to the world about God by our attitudes and deeds concerning our possessions and how we care for one another? How can our own lives better reflect what God has done for us and the living presence of Christ in our midst?


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